Exploring the best ice cream places in Crawford County

Hot takes on local ice cream

I have lived in Crawford County my entire life. Having been here for over 21 years, I believe it is safe to say that I know my way around most of the restaurants and eateries the area has to offer. As such, I feel obligated to share my hot takes on the best places in the area to get ice cream.

I will not be highlighting restaurants that serve ice cream desserts in addition to an entire menu; I will only be covering my favorite locations that largely focus on ice cream. Additionally, I will not be discussing restaurants that are known for their frozen dairy confections, so while E-Street Eatery is known for its milkshakes, they will not be discussed in detail here.

The first business I would like to highlight is Hank’s Frozen Custard in Conneaut Lake, about 15 minutes from campus. I would like to state that I am fully aware of the differences between ice cream and frozen custard; I am something of an aficionado, and I did consider not including Hank’s because of this difference. However, it is such a Crawford County summer tourism staple that I could not in good conscience exclude it from this piece.

Hank’s Frozen Custard was founded in the early 1950s, and has remained family-owned and operated since its inception. Not only is their frozen custard made in-house, but it is made with the original “Electro-Freeze” machines that the business started with. These machines are not used today because they are a pain to maintain and operate. I have had friends who worked at Hank’s who would tell me about their grievances with the finicky machines, and each of them insisted that it was worth the hassle for the nostalgic dessert it creates.

The difference between ice cream and frozen custard, if you were not previously privy to this knowledge, is a single ingredient: egg yolks. Ice cream is made from milk and cream, and the addition of egg yolks is what gives frozen custard its defining traits.

My favorite thing about frozen custard is the texture. While the taste is virtually synonymous with that of ice cream, the smooth and creamy texture is delectable in every way one can imagine. It is smoother than your typical soft-serve ice cream, but not drinkable as a milkshake would be. The best words to describe it are smooth and creamy; it is simply something you have to try for yourself to understand.

The only major fault I can find with Hank’s is their flavor options. Every day they are open, they have chocolate and vanilla custard, and a random variety of sherbert ranging from orange to black cherry. Usually once per week, they will offer peanut butter frozen custard, but other than that, the two flavors are all that they offer.

While some may see this as a major downfall, I think it makes it better in a certain sense. At other ice cream stands, I feel bombarded with a plethora of options, and become overwhelmed at the possibilities. This is why I often order the same thing every time I go to the ice cream stand in my hometown. Hank’s is a nice change of pace in that I simply have to decide between chocolate or vanilla, and one scoop or two.

They also offer a number of sundaes, ranging from the classic hot fudge sundae to more adventurous ones with nuts, brownies and other exciting additives. I personally have only tried the hot fudge sundae, as I’m not a huge fan of hot fudge in the first place. I usually have to be in the mood to enjoy it, or else its presence just irks me. My grandmother, on the other hand, adores hot fudge sundaes from Hank’s, and would absolutely recommend trying them.

The second place I want to highlight just so happens to be in my hometown of Linesville, which is approximately 25 minutes from campus. (As my brothers would say, the time depends on how fast you drive. My brother has gotten here in just under 20 minutes before, and I am still baffled as to how he did it. But, I digress.)

The ice cream stand in town has undergone multiple changes since it first opened. When I was in elementary school, it was called Rauscher’s Dairy Aisle, commonly referred to as “the dairy aisle.” Sometime in my early teens, they were sold and rebranded as “Barney’s Dairy Supreme.” A couple of years ago, it was bought by one Jaime Koontz, and thus, this stand as we know it today was born.

The biggest bone I have to pick with this stand is the name: “The Next Right Thing: Sweet Treats and Cool Eats.” Not many people know or would ever guess it about me, but I sometimes struggle with speech and stuttering. Namely, I mix up words and letters a lot. It can largely be attributed to dyslexia, but no matter the reason, I often find myself struggling to get all of the words in this stand’s name out correctly. One way or another, I often get it wrong, so I generally refer to it as “Next Right Thing,” and will do so from here.

While this stand’s name may have excessive verbiage, make no mistake: this charming little stand holds a very special place in my heart, and is worth every minute of the drive.

The first thing I love is the menu. I am not usually a fan of large menus, mostly because I hate feeling indecisive, but this stand really does have something for everyone. There is hard ice cream in more flavors than I could ever hope to name, soft-serve ice cream in the standard chocolate, vanilla, twist and so much more. There are flurries, milkshakes, sundaes, slushies —  this article would be far too long if I were to list everything on this stand’s menu.

As someone who lives with four siblings, all very close in age, it can be challenging to find anywhere that will accommodate everyone’s tastes and preferences. I am very thankful for Next Right Thing’s menu, as it has enabled the five of us to have many summer days together walking down the street to get ice cream and cause trouble together.

While it is not the focus of this piece, it is worth mentioning that their menu includes more than just ice cream. They have a wide variety of entrees, and are constantly having specials of different foods available for the weekend. While I myself will never be adventurous enough to try a guacamole burger, I do appreciate when they offer more tame selections, such as popcorn shrimp and fish.

The owner of this stand is truly a wonderful woman. She is one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in my hometown, and I certainly hope she and her stand are here to stay. The stand is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays so that she can spend time with her children, and they are truly sometimes the hardest days of the week. I cannot possibly give Next Right Thing a better recommendation.

The most popular ice cream stand among Alleghenians is Casey’s Ice Cream,  in the plaza next to Walmart. This stand has an advantage over the aforementioned stands in that it is closer to campus, but it is certainly a great option nonetheless.

Casey’s is unique in that they make all of their ice cream in house, with homemade, locally-sourced ingredients. If you have never had homemade ice cream, you are certainly missing out.

Much like Hank’s homemade custard, it’s somehow creamier than store-bought ice cream, albeit not as creamy as frozen custard. Something about homemade ice cream just hits different, and it is certainly delicious.

Casey’s has a relatively large selection of flavors offered daily. There are some classics, including chocolate almond and chocolate peanut butter, but there are also a lot of special flavors, such as Cookie Monster, Meadville Mud, Conneaut Lake Crunch and Squirrel Treats. I have been to Casey’s many times, and still have not tried every flavor. While this can largely be attributed to my affinity for chocolate almond, it still speaks for the wide line of flavors offered.

There are also a lot of special, fun flavors featured at Casey’s. These are offered in a rotating selection, and they announce on their Facebook page when certain specials are available.

Some of the weirdest ones, in my opinion, are Sweet Potato Casserole (sweet potato ice cream with pecans, coconut and marshmallows), Fire and Ice (made with habanero pepper puree), and Go Bacon (maple ice cream with candied bacon). Once announced on Facebook, they tend to go very quickly, and for this reason, I have never been able to try Go Bacon. Someday, I hope to get there before they sell out of it and I can finally learn why it goes so fast.

In addition to ice cream, Casey’s also makes candies. They offer individual candies as well as variety boxes, and are very reasonably priced given that they are homemade and delicious. They also make all of their waffle cones fresh daily, and they are the best waffle cones I have ever had.

Casey’s is certainly a wonderful place to get ice cream if you are looking to pay a little bit more for fresh, homemade ice cream close to campus.

The last local ice cream stop I would like to mention is Pizza Villa. You may remember their pizza being featured in my article on local pizza places. While I said I would not mention restaurants that feature ice cream desserts, Pizza Villa is a worthy exception as it is the best place to get Marcie’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Marcie’s ice cream is made in Meadville, with locally-sourced ingredients, similar to the way Casey’s is. The difference, however, is that Marcie’s does not have their own brick-and-mortar building; they produce their ice cream wholesale, and it is sold at local grocery stores and restaurants.

Marcie’s Homemade Ice Cream is locally owned and operated, with all of their dairy sourced from Titusville Dairy. Titusville is the only other city in Crawford County, located south of Meadville.

While it can be found at some grocery stores, Pizza Villa is the place closest to campus that features Marcie’s ice cream. In pre-pandemic times, they had an ice cream case similar to the ones at Casey’s, filled with a vast array of ice cream flavors. My favorite of theirs was First Date, a chocolate ice cream with a variety of chocolate incorporations.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pizza Villa is no longer serving ice cream in the same way, but it is still available at $5.99/quart, which is still a very good price. Pizza Villa is a solid choice for grab-and-go ice cream, as opposed to any of the other places mentioned in which you would order something to be eaten immediately.

All of these places have their pros and cons, and different aspects of each fit different preferences. No matter which of these places you choose as your next ice cream stop, two things are certain: you will be supporting local business, and you will be completely satisfied with the quality of both product and service found locally in Crawford County.